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Where Did Vincent's Mind Gogh?

When I think of Vincent van Gogh, I think of beauty. I think of swirling clouds and bright yellow stars in a deep night sky. I think of yellow flowers and crows in fields. Never too far from my mind, though, are his struggles when I conjure him up. His beautiful work has carried on through the years since his passing, but so have his demons.

It seems to be common knowledge that Van Gogh's mind was troubled. Images of him with a severed ear pop up nearly as regularly as his Starry Night. So, there's no surprise that his mental state has been a constant subject of speculation. It's really no wonder that he was troubled. His art wasn't well received during his life. He was dealt other hard rejections as well.

I recall a story that I read when I attended the Van Gogh immersive experience. The walking misfit decided to be a minister at 25 years old. He volunteered at a poor mining village in Belgium. He took this job seriously. He practiced what he preached so much that he gave away his possessions and lived as a beggar only to be deemed "unfit" by the evangelical committee. Stints in a mental asylum likely didn't make his life or self-esteem any better. Life was very hard for the holder of such an amazing mind. (Siegal 2015)

It has been hypothesized that Van Gogh was afflicted with many ailments. A group of doctors weighed in 2016, and the results were covered by Nina Siegal for The New York Times. Siegal wrote of the speculation that he had, "bipolar disorder, temporal lobe epilepsy, syphilis and schizophrenia (Siegal 2016)." During the study by the band of doctors, they considered evidence of his medical history, personal letters, and elements of his art. Their findings were presented to the Van Gogh Museum. They ultimately decided that Van Gogh had psychotic episodes, but didn't specify an underlying cause. More specifically, they found that he had intermittent psychotic episodes that were short. Because the psychosis wasn't constant, they ruled out the possible diagnosis of schizophrenia. They agreed that he had, "hallucinations, acoustic hallucinations, optical hallucinations and also delusions, hyper-excitation with confusional states, incoherent speech and unclear memory about the episodes (Siegal 2016)." Siegal 2016

While the results don't give modern fans much certainty of anything, I'm sure there are some things we can agree on. Van Gogh was a deeply troubled, underappreciated man with mental illness and infinite talent. With some love, appreciation, understanding, and better medical care, his sudden demise could have possibly been prevented. While his illness may not have caused his amazing aptitude for painting, it surely shaped the way he saw things. His optical hallucinations may have produced his famous stars. A person who is different isn't less. He may just be a man far, far ahead of his time.

Check out the sources listed below for further reading.

Works Cited:

Siegal, Nina. "What Ailed Van Gogh? Doctors Weigh In." NYTimes.Com, 15 Sept.

Siegal, Nina. "Van Gogh's Pastoral Days." NYTimes.Com, 12 March 2015, Accessed 22 Jun. 2023.


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